Wednesday 25th November
Otago Central Rail Trail - Wedderburn to Middlemarch.
Waking up in our remote lay-by was a slightly odd experience but passing farmers on tractors and lorry drivers with trailers of timber, paid no attention to us, except to wave cheerily.
We were up and off swiftly in any case as we had another big day today.
Off to Middlemarch to pick up our tandem and catch the 8.30 shuttle to Wedderburn, in the Maniototo region, under the shadow of the 'Rock and Pillar' mountains. The plan was to cycle the Central Otago Railway Trail - described in our Rough Guide as 'Romantic'.... Hmm, we'll see! The suggested itinerary was to cycle the 152km route over 5 days, staying in local hotels and lodges. Our itinerary was to take the shuttle to the halfway point and then pedal like fury to see if we could be back in Middlemarch in time for tea!
The shuttle with our tandem in the trailer behind took over an hour to reach our drop off. On arrival our chirpy driver dusted Thomas the tandem down after his dusty journey over the gravel roads, and then we were off.
The tandem flew along the first section, it being slightly downhill with a following wind. We arrived at Ranfurly station, windswept and hungry. The very excellent
e-central Cafe provided outdoor benches where we could enjoy our lattes, a savoury scone 'scoffer' and a warm blond brownie with yoghurt. That bit of the day was quite romantic...
Back in the saddle we pedalled on, this time into a head wind, up hill, with deep gravel under our wheels which was a bit more challenging!
Next stop was a picnic lunch at the top of a wooded slope at Tiroiti looking over a gurgling river. A 152 metre railway tunnel at Prices Creek plunged us into darkness for a while, so we made loud echoey train noises to entertain ourselves. Finally we arrived at the Central Otago Hotel - our half way point! Time for a reward. We sat in the sun on two easy chairs on the front veranda, feeling like a pair of early settlers in a sepia photograph, and enjoyed a couple of beers - a Speights Gold medal Ale and a Monteiths Summer Ale with ginger. Just what we needed. As usual the locals were inquisitive but friendly, and having sharing our life histories and future travel plans with them, they allowed us to move on (after we all laughed heartily at all the usual 'lady on the back of a tandem' jokes...).
On the second half of our journey we pedalled hard, stopped for another picnic and stopped at a memorial pillar to read about the details of the 1881 train crash that killed 21 people in their way to a Winter Show in Dunedin. The engine left the tracks she it 'failed to take the corner'. At the time it was the biggest rail disaster in New Zealand. Very sad.
The rest of the route was very scenic, a flat plain between two mountain ranges that looked similar to the Welsh Black Mountains or Dartmoor with rocky scheist tors on the skyline. This was more Lord of the Rings territory.
We did indeed make it back to Middlemarch in time for tea! We returned Thomas to the 'Cycle Surgery' shop and sat in the sun in a field next to our van for mugs of tea to wash down our toast and almond butter (yes...very romantic!)
Freshly showered and rejuvenated we set off for the east coast and in particular for Moeraki.
First stop was Moeraki Village and in particular its lighthouse on Katiki Point - another wildlife reserve.
We walked out onto the headland which is closed at night as there are steep cliffs and the ground is pockmarked with burrows, presumably made by rabbits, as they were everywhere. Katiki point is home to another colony of yellow-eyed penguins as well as to fur seals. As we wandered along the headland with binoculars at the ready, when we almost tripped over a penguin! Well, not actually, but about two metres away there were two just lying in the grass. Close enough for us to be able to actually see the yellow colour of their eyes and the texture of the feathers on their heads and backs. Close by, another popped out of his burrow under a bush and solemnly waddled his way down the grassy hillside, zigzagging from side to side just as a human would, to arrive at the sculpted sand dunes at the back of the beach where he stood for a while and looked around with the air of someone just observing their surroundings with mild interest. In fact he looked rather like Prince Philip, standing politely, hands behind his back quietly marking time whilst the Queen completes another Royal walkabout. Meanwhile down on the edge of the water, another penguin had just tumbled out of the waves and was starting to walk up the sand. This penguin had more of a flustered, clumsy 'Bridget Jones' character, hurrying along, tripping over bits of kelp and small rocks.. On seeing HRH at the back of the beach she hurried over flapping her wings and lifting her beak vertically in the air, calling out. Could this be a lovers rendezvous? Sadly no. In response to Bridget's excitement, Philip simply put his head down, marched down to the waters edge, threw himself headlong into the waves and swam away.
After that we walked on and saw several more penguins, it was a great chance to see rare birds at home in their natural setting.
We moved in to see the Moeraki boulders. These are remarkable large grey spheres of stone that have rolled out of the mudstone cliffs behind the beach as they have eroded. The boulders firmed around a central core of carbonate if lime crystals and the yellow crystalline interior is clearly seen where one of the boulders has cracked own like a hatched eggshell.
The remaining spheres sit intact in and on the sand and make a very dramatic and unique sight, as if a giant game of beach boules is underway.
It was nearly time to sat farewell to the coast and head west towards Mount Cook for the next part of our trip.
It was the most beautiful evening, so in anticipation of the long drive and wanting to didn't just a few more minutes on that gorgeous sunny beach, we made a cafetière of coffee and sat with two mug fulls in the sand dunes watching the sea.
Driving west on the SH 83 turned our faces toward the sunset and the snow capped mountains ahead. As we drove a full moon rose behind our right shoulder and illuminated the lakes with its silver reflection all the way to our overnight stop at the Ahuriri Bridge reserve, just north of